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Benefits of Music in Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia, and Health

Linda Crampton has a degree in biology. She also loves music. She is very interested in exploring the link between music and health.

Music can awaken memories in people with dementia and in others.

Music can awaken memories in people with dementia and in others.

The Intriguing Power of Music

Music has an almost magical ability to manipulate emotions and trigger memories of past events and feelings. The melody, rhythm, and tempo of music can evoke excitement and ecstasy or calmness and relaxation. Listening to music can be a enjoyable activity for both healthy people and those with dementia. Caregivers have discovered that the activity can produce happy memories in some people with Alzheimer's disease as well as some people who have dementia caused by another factor. The memories may be hidden in the patient's daily life, but music has the power to temporarily reveal them.

Music is often powerful beyond the sounds that are created. It's sometimes used to alter the state of consciousness in healthy people. Music created in drum circles, meditation groups, and religious rituals can create a sense of cohesion and a specific psychological state or mood in the members of the group. This state may be planned or accidental. The emotions that are evoked may be intense. Concerts may also evoke strong emotions, which may sometimes be overwhelming.

Music therapy is an important application of the power of music. The therapy can help people with different problems, including mood disorders, movement difficulties, and certain medical conditions. The effects of music on the brain are fascinating and potentially very important.

Donated iPods and other digital music players can improve the lives of people in nursing homes.

Donated iPods and other digital music players can improve the lives of people in nursing homes.

Warning

Medical experts seem to agree that listening to the right music can be beneficial for dementia patients, but the extent of these benefits is controversial. Some of the claimed benefits may depend on the specific nature of a person's problem or on the conditions in an experiment. A doctor should be consulted if someone has questions about the use of music for a particular patient.

Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease

Although the terms dementia and Alzheimer's disease are sometimes used interchangeably, the two conditions aren't exactly the same. Dementia is a set of symptoms. Alzheimer's disease is an example of an illness that causes the symptoms. It's the main cause of dementia, but it's not the only one. Certain brain injuries and some other diseases can also cause the problem.

The first word of the term "Alzheimer's disease" is capitalized because the disorder is named after a person. Alois Alzheimer (1864 to 1915) was a German doctor. He's credited with the first recognition of the disease that eventually bore his name. Alzheimer was very interested in the brain and abnormalities that developed in the organ.

The Nature of Dementia

Possible symptoms of dementia include memory loss, a decline in thinking skills, an inability to communicate properly, and confusion. Someone suffering from the disorder may also experience mood swings, periods of agitation, and movement problems.

Anyone with symptoms that might suggest the development of dementia should visit a doctor. As the first Mayo Clinic reference below states, sometimes the condition can be helped or even reversed, depending on the cause. Metabolic problems, certain nutritional deficiencies, and some medications can cause conditions resembling dementia and could be helped or cured by appropriate methods. Other diseases beside Alzheimer's can cause the condition. If these diseases can be helped, the dementia might be diminished.

If the patient's condition can't be improved based on our current knowledge of the disorder, listening to music could be temporarily helpful for a patient. It's important to note that it's not a cure for the condition, but it may help patients while they listen to the music and perhaps for a short period afterwards.

Music can release hidden memories and emotions.

Music can release hidden memories and emotions.

I find the first two quotes that I show below very interesting. They indicate that not all of the brain is seriously damaged in dementia and suggest that music is a way to connect to a healthier area. The third quote describes the difficulty in the evaluation of music therapy. As the quotation implies, what is helpful for one patient may not be helpful for another one.

Potential Benefits of Music Therapy

Music & Memory is a non-profit organization that brings personalized music to elderly or infirm people to improve their quality of life. iPods and similar digital music players are used to let people hear their favorite music. The goal is to help people with cognitive or physical challenges. The list of problems that the organization aims to help includes Alzheimer's disease. As noted later in this article, though music can be beneficial, there is some debate about whether it can help cognition in Alzheimer's patients. Music & Memory's program appears to be useful in at least some respects, as the "News" section on the organization's website shows.

Music & Memory was started by Dan Cohen based on an idea he had in 2006. He noticed that no nursing homes in the United States gave their residents iPods to listen to music. He volunteered to create iPod playlists for people in a New York nursing home. The residents enjoyed listening to the music so much that he expanded his program. Today a long list of nursing homes in the United States and Canada give their residents digital music players and headphones.

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Read More From Youmemindbody

Music seems to be very helpful for people with dementia or Alzheimer's disease in at least some respects. According to the AFA (Alzheimer's Foundation of America) and the Mayo Clinic doctor quoted below, although the parts of the brain that deal with cognition are damaged in people with dementia, those that process rhythmical sounds aren't (or they are relatively undamaged). The first organization says that patients often enjoy listening to music and that the experience can modify their behavior in a beneficial way. The second organization gives some suggestions for introducing music to a patient .

Music with rhythm and a beat is often a good choice for Alzheimer's patients.

Music with rhythm and a beat is often a good choice for Alzheimer's patients.

Music has power—especially for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. And it can spark compelling outcomes even in the very late stages of the disease.

— Alzheimer's Foundation of America

Using Music to Help People with Dementia

If someone wants to use music therapy to help a dementia patient, it's a good idea to get tips from a caregiver with experience in this area. In general, though, the AFA says that lively music cheers a patient up and encourages activity while relaxing music calms the patient down when they're agitated or when it's time to go to bed. Though music can help with patient management, the main goal of music therapy is to improve a patient's quality of life.

Music of many types may be useful for dementia, but rhythmic tunes and singing seem to work best when the goal is to improve a patient's mood. Patients recognize rhythm and move in time to music, although they may move only part of their body. Patients may enjoy creating rhythmic sounds and singing themselves as well as listening to other performers.

Listening to music may not be helpful for all dementia patients, but I think the activity is definitely worth trying as long as it's approved by the patient's doctor. A physician may be able to give an educated guess about how the music may affect the patient. As the Mayo Clinic article referenced below states, if a caregiver discovers that the patient enjoys a particular piece of music, they should play it often. If they “react negatively” to the music, a different piece should be chosen.

Musical memories are often preserved in Alzheimer's disease because key brain areas linked to musical memory are relatively undamaged by the disease.

— Jonathan Graff-Radford M.D. via the Mayo Clinic website

Triggering Memories in One Dementia Patient

In April 2014, a documentary called "Alive Inside: The Story of Music and Memory" was created to describe the work of the Music & Memory program for people with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. A scene showing the touching effect of music on a man named Henry became a big hit on YouTube.

Henry had suffered from dementia for ten years at the time when the video below was made. He hardly ever spoke, responding to questions with only "Yes" or "No". He was withdrawn and generally unresponsive to his environment.

The situation changed when Henry heard his favourite type of music. Even when his headphones were removed after he had listened to the music, Henry was temporarily connected to the world around him and could respond appropriately and enthusiastically to questions. For a while, he was "restored to life", as the renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks says in the video below. Henry's comments showed that he remembered happy events from his past. These memories were related to his love of music, including that of Cab Calloway (1907–1994). Calloway was a popular American singer and bandleader. He also appeared in movies.

Music has triggered memories in other dementia patients besides Henry. It may not do this in all patients, although the music may help them in other ways. Research into the effects of music therapy on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease patients is continuing.

Music therapy applied in the best way for a particular patient could be very beneficial. Ideally, we would be able to prevent Alzheimer's disease and other causes of dementia or cure the disorders once they appeared. Until this becomes a reality, I think the potential power of music should be investigated further and spread as far as possible if it’s found to help many people.

Music may sometimes evoke a painful memory instead of a happy one. It's important that caregivers monitor a patient's response to music therapy carefully. If possible, the music should be associated with a pleasant memory or emotion from the patient's past.

How Extensive Are Music's Benefits?

There seems to be no doubt in the scientific and medical literature that listening to music can trigger memories and (if the right music is chosen) happy emotions in people with dementia. The activity is worth exploring for this reason. Some researchers think that people are ascribing too many benefits to the activity, however. Some studies has been done with just a few patients or are flawed in another way.

The claims that listening to music can improve cognition in patients are controversial. Some researchers seem to be convinced that it does, while others say that the evidence is flawed. Perhaps the results of the activity are influenced by the cause of the dementia and the specific problems in an individual's brain, which is a very complex organ. They may also be influenced by the degree of brain damage, the conditions of the study, and the nature of the music. Passively listening to music may give a different result from playing an instrument, and playing an instrument individually or in a group may give different results. Henry's cognition seems to be temporarily improved by listening to music, but he is just one person.

There is probably a lot left to learn about the link between music and dementia. Hopefully the research will continue and will reveal some useful information that most health professionals will agree is both accurate and useful. It would be wonderful to help dementia patients and to learn more about the brain activities in someone with the disease. Understanding the activities may also help patients who don't have dementia.

Evaluation of music therapy and its impact is a complex task. Clinically significant changes are often highly individual and standardized outcome measures may not always portray what matters most.

— Ronald Devere, MD

Music's Power for Those Without Dementia

Music is powerful for people who don't have dementia as well as those who do. It's wonderful when music awakens happy memories, as it often does, but not so wonderful if it reminds people of unpleasant or sad events.

Some evidence suggests that listening to sad music when we are already sad is not a good plan. I suspect that many people besides me have already discovered this fact. On the other hand, some researchers say that listening to music that causes us to cry can sometimes be cathartic. It's probably not a good idea for someone to investigate whether this idea applies to them if they have just experienced a tragedy.

There seems to be no debate that happier music can be helpful for many people. The right music is very capable of improving mood or in reviving pleasant memories, as I’ve discovered in my own life. It can also provide a temporary escape from the daily concerns of life or even provide inspiration for dealing with a problem. The effect of music on the mind is a very interesting topic. The power of music goes beyond the notes for people without dementia and for those who have the disorder.

References

  • Dementia information from the Mayo Clinic
  • "Music and Alzheimer's: Can it Help?" from the Mayo Clinic
  • Music can help dementia and stroke patients remember from the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
  • "Music Therapy in Alzheimer and Dementia Care" from the Music Therapy Association of British Columbia
  • The healing power of music for Alzheimer's patients from AARP (American Association of Retired Persons)
  • Music's effect on dementia from Ronald Devere, MD (an Alzheimer's disease specialist) via Practical Neurology
  • Two types of peak emotional responses to music from Nature Scientific Reports
  • Potential effects of sad music in young people from Sage Journals

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2010 Linda Crampton

Comments

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 23, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comment, Martie!

Martie Coetser from South Africa on November 23, 2015:

As always, your hub is filled with important information. Beautiful poem! Thanks, Alicia :)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on December 09, 2012:

Thank you for the visit and the comment, Pavlo. I agree with you - music can definitely inspire the future as well as reveal the past!

Pavlo Badovskyi from Kyiv, Ukraine on December 09, 2012:

It reveals past and I agree with that. Music can also inspire the future. Great hub!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on December 09, 2012:

Thank you very much for the comment and the list of musicians, phdast7. The only person from your list that I know is Lorenna McKennit, and I do love her music. I'm looking forward to exploring the music created by all the other people that you mention!

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on December 09, 2012:

Alicia -

This is a wonderful poem and a great hub. So glad I found it. :)

Now in keeping with your comments about the power of music to touch our emotions and memories a few of my favorite musicians:

Fleet Foxes

Mumford and Sons

The Civil Wars

Nickel Creek

The Lumineers

EastMountainSouth

Sons of Sylvia

Lorenna McKennit

Brandi Carlisle

Angie Aparo

Claire Burson

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 08, 2012:

Thank you, Chris. I appreciate your visit and comment.

Chris Achilleos on March 08, 2012:

That was a very beautiful poem and interesting hub, thank you for sharing :)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 26, 2012:

Thank you for the comment, teaches12345. I love classical music too. It can be very relaxing if the right piece of music is chosen!

Dianna Mendez on January 26, 2012:

I can see how music would help one recover from past woes. I enjoy playing soft classical music to relax and for meditation purposes. Your poem is touching and quite real in the sense of how it brings memory through music. This is a good hub.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 21, 2011:

Thank you, writer20. I appreciate your comment very much! My avatar photo shows Nevin, one of my ragdoll cats.

Joyce Haragsim from Southern Nevada on July 21, 2011:

A great wonderful poem, you have so much talent.

Loved the frozen tree photo and more so the photo of your cute kitty

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 12, 2011:

Thank you for the visit and comment, John.

John Sarkis from Winter Haven, FL on June 12, 2011:

Nice poem, very intense. thanks

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 25, 2011:

Hi, epigramman. Thank you very much for your comment and such kind words!!!

epigramman on February 25, 2011:

....well you truly lured me into a poetic dimension of intrigue, mystery and imagination that I momentarily lost all conception of time and place - and I was so absorbed by your world - Hubpages did not exist - I only existed for your words!!!!!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 20, 2011:

Thank you, duffsmom.

P. Thorpe Christiansen from Pacific Northwest, USA on February 20, 2011:

Beautiful use of words and phrases.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 17, 2011:

Thank you very much for your comment, Fossillady.

Kathi Mirto from Fennville on February 17, 2011:

Beautiful photography and prose to go with it

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 07, 2011:

Hi, pennyofheaven. Thank you for your kind comment.

pennyofheaven from New Zealand on February 07, 2011:

Isn't it always like that. We try to touch the sound. The ripples of which stir forgotten memories of that which we are. A very poetic voice you have. Awesome Thank you.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 30, 2011:

Thank you so much for your comment, Cheyenne. I’m glad that I’ve discovered your hubs and poetry. It's great to meet you!

CheyenneAutumn on January 30, 2011:

The mystery in this is beautiful. Your presentation of him shows a compassion like a loving friend watching a lost friend find his way. knowing they cannot guide them as they find themselves.

Very Nice! I really enjoyed it. Thumbs up all around!

Cheyenne

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 01, 2011:

Hi, Nellieanna. Thank you very much for your comment. I intended the poem to be somewhat open to interpretation. What I hoped to do was to present a character or entity who is flawed in some unexplained way, but who is not irredeemable. The character quickly suppresses memories of his blemished past.

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on January 01, 2011:

This tells just enough to intrigue a reader but not enough to fully satisfy. Now I'll be pondering about it! I'm not even sure "he" is a human being! But I LOVE the line "he tried to touch the sound . . ." That imagery really pulls me in. And it stilled the music, - - odd. But it relieved him even as it brought questions to the surface, which might have been unsettling, but seemed too easily sloughed off. Puzzling - and fascinating! I like it! And that illustration is gorgeous. Bar-r-r-r!

This hub definitely gets my vote and accolades.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on December 30, 2010:

Thanks for the comment and the vote, Nell.

Nell Rose from England on December 30, 2010:

Hi, this is lovely, I am sure that we all have these little flashes of rememberance sometimes, voted up, cheers nell

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on December 29, 2010:

Thank you very much for your kind comment, prasetio30. Best wishes and a happy new year to you.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on December 29, 2010:

This is so beautiful. I am glad to know this from you. You made my day so colorful by this poem. Thank you very much. I thought we have the same profession who concern about education. I am a private teacher and you are a lecturer. Keep on writing, my friend. Love and peace

Prasetio:)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on December 27, 2010:

Thanks for your comment, kidsangel17884.

kidsangel7884 from norfolk. VA. on December 26, 2010:

This is beautiful. thank you for sharing...

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